Military organizations are known for using a command-and-control approach to leadership: Orders are communicated dryly and are carried out without a question being asked in reply—and certainly without a discussion being held.
In one of my consultations, a soldier was discussing with me the difficulties he faces with his commanding officer. As I expected, the soldier described the commander as behaving unreasonably. However, I was shocked to hear the solider say that the core problem was that, unlike his prior commanders, this commanding officer lacked compassion.
“He lacks compassion?” I asked, in astonishment.
“Right,” replied the man. “He doesn’t care about the soldiers; he only cares about making himself look good. The commanders I had before all showed an interest in you; they’d listen to your problems and do what they could to help you. But, not this guy. That’s why nobody under him looks up to him. His leadership team doesn’t respect him and we don’t either. Nobody wants to follow him.”
This man’s story is a great reminder that, even in an organization which has a foundation that requires absolute obedience and aggression without mercy, whenever a superior does have the freedom to decide whether to behave compassionately to a subordinate, he or she must act with compassion. Otherwise, what will happen when the subordinate has the freedom to decide whether to give full effort to following?